Advent 2018 Blog -Can a Star Stop? (part 1)

“STOP” is a part of the Christmas story.   There it is …Matthew 2: 9-10   the star “stops” over the place where the child was.  When the Wise men saw that the star had “stopped” they were overwhelmed with joy.

We read past this as just another miracle part of the Christmas story, because stars can’t really stop…. Or can they?  I did some interesting digging this morning.  (Sorry, I’m in bed with a nasty cold and my research impulse is on overload) Trolling the internet to see just why the movement and stopping of the star was included in the Christmas story, I found David Weintraub, a professor of Astronomy at Vanderbilt (my alma mater… small world.)   I was also taken by his article titled “Navigating the Crossroads of Science and Religion.”   That is a navigation near and dear to my heart.

Can a star stop?   The short answer is yes… there is an astrological answer for the sighting of a star in the east, for wisemen who actually travelled south and for a star which appeared to stop at the manger.

“One can claim that Matthew’s words describe a miracle, something beyond the laws of physics. But Matthew chose his words carefully and wrote “star in the east” twice, which suggests that these words hold a specific importance for his readers.”  David Weintraub

“In the east” comes from the Greek phrase en te anatole.  This is a mathematical and astrological term used in ancient Greece to describe a very specific phenomenon.  Ent e anatole describes the sighting of a planet that appears in the east for only a short time.

“Though the planets, sun and moon move along approximately the same path through the background stars, they travel at different speeds, so they often lap each other. When the sun catches up with a planet, we can’t see the planet, but when the sun passes far enough beyond it, the planet reappears.” (Weintraub.) Modern astrologers call this a heliacal rising.

What the NSRV Bible translates as “stopped” comes from the Greek word epano, a word with roots in Greek astrology.  “Epano” was a moment when a plant stopped moving and changed apparent direction.   Weintraub says: “Together, a rare combination of astrological events (the right planet rising before the sun; the sun being in the right constellation of the zodiac; plus a number of other combinations of planetary positions considered important by astrologers) would have suggested to ancient Greek astrologers a regal horoscope and a royal birth.”

Obviously, I am fascinated by all of this, but the real question is “why does it matter?”  Does this bring me to any new understanding of the Christmas story or of God?    I think it does.   Stay tuned.

Grace and Peace at Advent.


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